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Holly Petraeus talks financial safety to Academy Airmen

Holly Petraeus, assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Office of Service Member Affairs, gives financial advice at the Air Force Academy Airman and Family Readiness Center Aug. 21. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Sarah Chambers)

Holly Petraeus, assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Office of Service Member Affairs, gives financial advice at the Air Force Academy Airman and Family Readiness Center Aug. 21. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Sarah Chambers)

Holly Petraeus spoke to Academy Airmen at the Airman and Family Readiness Center here about loans, credit scores and financial scams Aug. 21. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Sarah Chambers)

Holly Petraeus spoke to Academy Airmen at the Airman and Family Readiness Center here about loans, credit scores and financial scams Aug. 21. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Sarah Chambers)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Holly Petraeus, the assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Office of Service Member Affairs, spoke to Academy Airmen at the Airman & Family Readiness Center here about loans, credit scores and financial scams Wednesday.

The wife of retired four-star Gen. David Petraeus, this was her first official visit to the Academy.

"When I speak at these bases, I want to educate service members on what we do and I want to hear from them directly what their issues are," she said. "I get asked all the time in Washington, 'What are the financial issues impacting service members and their families?' I want to give an answer that's accurate, so it's important for me to have these conversations."

In the last two and a half years, Petraeus has visited 67 military installations to provide financial advice to service members. In May, she traveled to Japan and South Korea, reaching thousands of service members in two weeks.

"I was an Army child and then married into the Army," Petraeus said. "I've been able to get a feel for what the issues are in military life."

CFPB, a federal agency created in 2011, enforces a variety of federal consumer financial laws.

"They can file charges against people who are breaking laws to rip-off service members and their families," Petraeus said. "That really attracted me to the company. I didn't have a grand plan to be in this career, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time for an opportunity to make a difference."

Petraeus warned Airmen to never sign a contract until thoroughly reviewing it.

"That's what judge advocate generals are for and what your Airman & Family Readiness Center is for," she said. "People can get confused and overwhelmed by financial terms. If you don't understand what you're signing and not positive how much you'll be paying for a loan, find someone who can explain it to you."

Petraeus said if service members have preexisting debt they are entitled to send a request to their lender, with a copy of their orders, to get their interest rate reduced to six percent while on active duty.

"It can be for credit card debit, student loan debt or a mortgage," Petraeus said. "I think a lot of service members are unaware of this."

She also advised Academy Airmen to continue to pay off student loans while on active duty.

"It may seem attractive to defer a student loan during that time, but unless it's a federally subsidized loan, it's going to continue to accrue interest so you'll owe more than less," Petraeus said.

Airmen can file a financial complaint with CFPB at any time if there is an issue, Petraeus said.

"We've been able to get money back to many service members," Petraeus said. "Even if they don't receive anything back, they may be helping someone else. Our enforcement division looks at all complaints and it may help us build a case against someone who is making a practice of ripping off service members."

Senior Airman Jeremy Baker said the presentation was very helpful.

"It's amazing how high of interest rate some loans carry and it's good to find out what's a good deal and what's not," he said. "It's nice that this event was free. This information will help me in the future when I open my own coffee shop."